How to find the ideal buyer for your art : Don’t fish for trout when you want killer whales.

I received a question from a reader the other day and it made me stop and think. She wrote:

I am trying to learn how to sell my art online and not having any success. The advice I read says, “find your target market” and “offer a solution”.

It might as well be Greek because I have no idea what they mean by those phrases.

I don’t have a “target market”. I am willing to sell my art to whomever is willing to buy it. As I’ve only sold a couple of things, I can’t come up with a “type” of person who buys my art. And it would be arrogant of me to decide I only want to sell to a certain kind of person, wouldn’t it?
As for “offer a solution”, my first reaction is “for what?” What is the problem to which I’m supposed to offer a solution? In my mind, I’m the one with the problem.

It’s easy to give out glib advice about working out your “target market”, “solutions” and “niches” but what does this actually mean in the cold hard light of the real world outside the rarefied atmosphere of a marketing agency, especially if you are new to selling your art? How do you find your ideal buyer, especially if you haven’t sold much yet? Well basically, ignore all the “target market”, “niche” buzzwords. A lot of it is down to common sense.

And so, as is my way… a story…

The gnarly fishermans tale…

A gnarly fisherman {with a beard} sets out bright and early for a days catch. He would dearly love to catch a killer whale. {I don’t even know if its possible to catch a killer whale and it’s technically not a fish but just bear with me on this one}. However, instead of heading to the ocean where killer whales abide, he heads for his local trout pond and casts his line, carefully baited with a lovely killer whale treat. He spends 12 hours in the freezing cold waiting to catch a killer whale but is sorely disappointed with only catching one solitary trout {the only strange trout in the pond with a taste for killer whale bait}. He heads home dejected and pretty much empty handed.

The next day he heads out bright and early and decides to head for the ocean instead. He has his tasty killer whale bait and extra strong rod. Within minutes he is hauling killer whale after killer whale into his boat. He’s in the right place with the right bait. Catching them is easy… He heads for home after a few hours happily laden down with 500 tonnes of Orca for his freezer.

Fish in the right place…

So basically, when selling your art, its the same thing. You have to fish in the right place with the right bait to be successful.

So, for example. If you specialise in delicate watercolours of Cornwall there is no point in spending a lot of time promoting them on a site like Deviant Art which specialises in gritty urban contemporary graphic based work.

Much better to seek out more relevant opportunities with an audience that more closely matches your work and concentrate your efforts there. You may find a bricks and mortar gallery that specialises in Cornish watercolours and caters to the tourists who come to Cornwall and want to buy a piece of art to remind them of the journey, or you may find a site online promoting Cornwall which you could advertise your work with. You would be reaching your target market.

Conversely, If your art is portraits of Death Metal stars painted in your own blood you may have a very limited audience in the Cornish Gallery. Sales will be slow.

And bait your hook right…

So what about the “offering a solution” bit? Is it possible for an artist to do this? Well yes. The artist who paints death metal stars in blood is the perfect solution for a death metal fan with a love of art, a bare wall and a desire for something to fill it.

The Cornish artist who paints the sea is a perfect solution for the holidaying couple who want to capture the magical essence of the Cornish coast back in their landlocked inner city flat.

If you place the right art in front of the right people you have the right bait on your hook and you are highly likely to make a sale.

So do I have to change my art to fit?

No. This is the great thing about the internet. Your potential audience is so large that it’s highly likely that whatever you create there is a group of people who will love it. Its just a case of finding the right outlet.

Think like a fish…

So how do you find the right outlet for your work? With a bit of market research that’s how… You need to THINK like your quarry.

So to sell Cornish art put yourself in the shoes of the couple heading there on holiday. If you were heading to Cornwall and liked art what kind of sites would you look at? What galleries would you visit? Where would you stay? What would you do? Where would you search online?

Thinking like this will help you outline a marketing strategy of which galleries to approach, what to include on your website and which marketing methods to employ.

Your online marketing mix may include

  • E-mail newsletters
  • Pages on your site of relevance to your target audience
  • Relevant Blog articles
  • Discussions on forums of relevance to the target audience
  • Posting your work on relevant showcase sites.
  • Interaction through Social Media sites popular with your target audience

You offline marketing mix may include

  • Contact with galleries which deal in the right kind of work
  • Coverage in local media
  • Attendance at art and craft events in the relevant area

Basically, now you have identified your target audience you know where to fish.

If you haven’t sold any of your own work yet, look at what other artists are doing and what sells. Research research research is the key.

Line up all your ducks…

If you get this right, making sales will be much easier. If you get it wrong you will waste a horrible amount of energy on something that is never going to fly so it’s really important to do your homework.

With selling art, online and off, you need to line up all your ducks in a row to make sales easier.

Do you have a question about selling art? Mail me here and it could make it into a post, probably involving an obtuse story about animals.

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What is your crucial secret weapon for selling art? : Lessons from “The Apprentice”

Lets put on our “imagining” hat for a second. {I hope you have an imagining hat? I wouldn’t go anywhere without mine}.

Imagine for some strange and unknown reason you {heaven forbid}suddenly find yourself taking part in an episode of “The Apprentice”. Your objective is to sell as many of your paintings as possible in 5 hours from a rented shop. People come in, wander round disinterested in your work and leave. They don’t come back. You gradually get more and more panicky at the thought of bearing the brunt of the gimlet eye of Sir Alan Sugar and his henchmen and resort to standing at the shop door shouting and trying to grab passers by. They cross the road to avoid you as, by this point, you have become more than a little bonkers looking. You fail the task miserably, get fired and go home sobbing in a taxi.

Stop! Rewiiiiiiind

Now lets re imagine it…
Same Apprentice style task, same scenario. But this time you have a secret weapon. You have a big list of people who you already know LOVE your work. You set up your gallery and contact them. They arrive in droves and because they are already pre-qualified to like what you do, they buy a lot of paintings. You trounce the other team, get a fabulous job with Sir Alan and get to fly off to Royal Ascot in a private jet quaffing champagne.

Your mailing list is your secret weapon.

That’s pretty much why you need an artist’s mailing list in a nutshell {omitting the champagne, jets and Sir Alan bits}. It’s your secret weapon for selling art online and off.

Many many people will visit your website or see your work in a gallery but unless you make some kind of record of who they are you will probably never see them again and an opportunity is wasted.

This is why you need to collect their details, start your artists mailing list and keep growing it.

Many people set up a site but neglect to grow their mailing list when really at the end of the day it should be the FOCUS of your entire online presence.

So what exactly is it?

An artist’s mailing list is simply a list of the details of people who expressed an interest in your work, whether they be on your site or viewing your work in a gallery. Name and email address is really all you need {unless your audience predominately don’t use the internet and you want to send out invitations by post.}

The less information you ask for, the more likely people will be to give it to you. Asking for peoples inside leg measurements and the name of their dog will result in a very small mailing list.

What do I use it for?

You use your mailing list to keep people up to date with your latest work. A good idea is to send out an email newsletter once a month detailing new work, things that you are working on and your general announcements {upcoming exhibitions etc}

Is it worth the hassle?

Absolutely! For example Artist, Hazel Dooney {some of Hazel’s work may be NSFW} has built a great deal of her success on keeping her own group of collectors informed of her work. Hazel sends out a monthly “Studio Notes” email, thus allowing her to operate independently outside the gallery system. Basically if you have your own list you aren’t reliant on a galleries list of interested folk. You have your own. Hoorah.

When do I start?

I love this Japanese saying. “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now” If you start now, a year down the line you will have a healthy list of collectors. Just do it.

So, how do I do it?

At the very basic end, just make sure you have a book for people to add their details at your next exhibition.

Read this post for some ideas about how to get people to sign up. Simple tips to increase your mailing list signup at gallery exhibitions & craft fairs

At the more high tech end, start to collect names and emails on your website. Trust is a very precious thing so make sure that you reassure people that you value their trust and will not sell or lose their email or spam them.

Very importantly – don’t use your normal email programme to send out emails or manage your list. It looks unprofessional and is likely to end in a junk mail folder. The professional services below ensure that their emails are designed to get through the spam filters. You also can’t measure how many people open your mails when you use Outlook so have no idea if anyone is actually reading them and how to improve.

Ok Mrs Smartarse. So what DO I use instead of Outlook?

There are specialist online services which you can use to manage your list and send out emails.

MailChimp offers a great FREE package which is ideal for cutting your teeth. They have loads of nice features and you can have up to 1000 subscribers on the free account. They do seem to have more problems with deliver-ability though but it is a good place to start.

Aweber
I use Aweber to send out all my emails and manage my list and it works great. It has a high deliverability rate, great templates, stats and features. It does cost $20 a month though but you can use it on multiple sites and send as many emails as you like for that fee.

Don’t be a V14gr4 Gnome

All this could start to sound a bit mercenary and it’s true that the mailing list is open to abuse by ice hearted internet marketers who use peoples emails to bombard them with ads for v14gr4 or promises of a larger willy. However, like anything in life, it’s what you do with it that counts. Always remember that your mailing list is about people, not just numbers.

Take time to connect and build relationships with the people who like your work. Don’t treat them as a commodity. Get to really know them. Grow your connections with your people and you,  your work and your audience can grow together.

How do you manage your artists mailing list? Tell us below.

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Are you making these 6 art sales killing mistakes on your artists website?

Poking around the internet a lot, as I am wont to do, means that I look at a heck of a lot of artist’s websites and in my meanderings round the corners of cybespace I have found that there are some issues that come up again and again.

Without wanting to be overdramatic, I would say that there are a core of common mistakes, all of which have the potential to seriously damage if not kill the possibility of selling any art on the websites that make them.

So here in no particular order are my top 6 sales killing artists website mistakes. Check your site to see if you have any of these issues, and if you do, sort ’em out quick to ensure you are in the best possible position to sell art online.

{warning. I may get ever so slightly ranty in this post as I get so frustrated at the amount of sites and artists scuppering their own chances of success when their work is great. Don’t let it happen to you.}

1 } Hidden prices give us “The Fear”

There is nothing more guaranteed to prevent a sale than looking for a price and seeing “price list available on application”. It brings out in us all “the fear” of going into an expensive shop and dealing with a snotty assistant who assumes we can’t afford it and looks at us like we crawled from under a hedge.

Most people {especially us Brits} would rather pull our eyes out with spoons than ask the price.

If you are happy with your price structure you should be happy to show people the price. Make it clear on your site so that people don’t have to hunt for it.

How does it kill sales?

People will just not contact you for the price out of embarrasment in case they have to make an “Ummm, Oh yes that’s fine but I think I have just strangely changed my mind” kind of excuse. Just tell them.

2 } Muzak

Putting music on your site is really offputting to a visitor as the chances of them liking the same music as you are VERY slim. Then it just annoys them whilst they scrabble around to find a mute button. Even worse, if you haven’t included a mute button they will harbour feelings of deep and steaming resentment towards you that you inflicted Richard Clayderman on them at 6am when they were having a quiet surf and woke up their sleeping husband so he got grumpy at them [or maybe that’s just me].

How does it kill sales?

As well as the aformentioned deep and steaming resentment build up prejudicing sales, music also stops people having a sneaky look at your site at work.

3 } Splash screen lunacy

A splash page is a web page placed at the front of a site that contains a big image or an introductory flash animation, possibly of artwork swishing in and whizzing round.

They were popular about 10 years ago but can still be seen on some sites. I did think they were dying out but just this morning got a link to an artists newly launched site which had one.

Splash pages annoy and frustrate visitors [Have you ever watched an animated one through without clicking “skip intro”?] and confuse search engines, even if they are static by putting an extra, unnecessary and empty page between them and the content. It can make the site unusable on smartphones and just generally gets in the way.

How does it kill sales?

Splash screens frustrate the viewer before they even get to consider buying your work, driving them away from your site and off to look at other artists work.

See this post Artists Websites and the Attack of the Toddler Brainz to see why.

4 } Google adsense chaos. A site cluttered up with advertising.

It’s quite common to find a site where the work is lost amongst columns of Adsense ads [little text ads from Google] as well as flashing banner ads taking up half the space of the site. As these ads will be related to art [Google places ads relevant to your content] it can be hard to see where the ads end and the art begins.

Its very off-putting to users if your pages consist of large chunks of advertising. Its also very difficult for you to make money this way unless you have a very popular site with thousands of visits and constantly updated content. You won’t just get free money for cluttering your page up with a few ads. For most artist it’s better to concentrate on selling your work rather than advertising space.

How does it kill sales?

The advertising devalues your work making your site look more “bargain basement” than “Saatchi Gallery” This makes visitors far less likely to want to part with good money to buy your art.

5 } The anti-Zen. An imbalance between form and function.

The best websites keep a good balance between looking good and functioning well. A site that does either at the expense of the other will perform poorly.

We have all come across them. The beautiful sites that take ages to load and then crash your machine or the extremely functional sites that look terrible. Good website design should balance both elements to create a harmonious whole. [Ooh, I have come over all zen!}.

How does it kill sales?

An imbalance either way can prevent sales. Too much form can mean a deficit on the technical side and issues with the user having difficulty with the purchasing process. Too much function and you can devalue your artwork by placing it in an unnatractive setting {back to the “bargain basement” again}.

6 } Weird Navigation involving fairies

Visitors to your site just want to be able to view your work easily and quickly. They don’t want to play a game where they have to discover an invisible hovering fairy on the page and then chase it around the screen until a menu unfolds out of its tiny wings {I have actually seen this navigation, I’m not making it up!}

At this point they will have gone off to have a cup of tea and a lie down in a darkened room. Just make it as easy as possible for them to get around the site and find out more about you and your work. Don’t make them have to work for the information.

How does it kill sales?

Going back to the Toddler Brainz post, people have the attention spans of 3 year olds on the web. By the time they have found the hidden fairy menu they will have wandered off to do something else, thereby not even looking at your work for sale. Just make it easy for them to find it and then they have more chance of buying it.


So there are my top six sales killers. Removing any of them from your site should definately mean an improvement in your results and a general improvement in the user experience of your visitors.


Do you agree that these are killers? Has removing any of them improved the performance of your site? Do you have any more killers that annoy you? Please share your comments below.

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Best of the web | October 2010 | Don’t miss these.

Take 10 minutes at lunchtime to watch this thought provoking animation. Really important discussion touching on the reason artists often find it so hard at school.

Why being a square peg is now your greatest art sales asset
I have been looking into this subject in a guest post on The Abundant Artist which you can read here.

9 creative women share secrets to suceeding with social media
A series of blog posts curated by a group of creative women blogging about how social media has helped them and their businesses, and how you can put these ideas into action.

Art School Monsters
Do you have a monster lurking from art school that tells you you are no good at art and undermines your confidence? I certainly do. I LOVED this post from Kirsty Hall.

Social Media Cheat Sheet
Extremely useul map of where you should concentrate your attention in the social media world.

Is Etsy Dying?
Thought provoking read from Skinny Artist about Etsy’s figures. A good reason to get your own artists website and not rely on Etsy as your sole web presence.

See 10 crucial reasons why every artist needs a their own hub website

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